Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Sasha and Charlotte went to Hell, Becky Lynch came back from the hospital and even the great Paul Heyman couldn’t turn a Minnesota crowd against one of their favourite sons. Next week, WWE airs from Glasgow, where they’ll probably attempt to put over the English. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, October 31st 2016.
Cheeky Look Ahead to Survivor Series
Apologies for subverting the format this week, but I have to open with a quick note about Survivor Series. From the outset, I’ve had my doubts – reinforced by the recent news that the show will be four hours – that three elimination matches plus Lesnar/Goldberg will be sufficient to head up the Survivor Series card, at least in the eyes of the WWE decision-makers. So until proven otherwise, my assumption in these previews will be that major singles titles are also likely to be defended.
I realize my predictions are usually utter pump (as evidenced by the women main eventing Hell In A Cell after all, plus my notes on SmackDown this week), but this one might bear up to scrutiny. Even the women’s rosters, which are pretty thin, may stretch far enough to incorporate title matches too. Consider that the big pay-per-view is in Toronto, and the first woman SmackDown writes out of the elimination match is Natalya? Nikki Bella is captaining the team, rather than the brand’s champion? And Eva Marie’s movie has just finished shooting? Hmm. Also, if ever there was a time and a place to do the inevitable match between Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho….. I’ll just leave that there.
So I’m assuming there’s at least a chance that major title programs will be rolling as usual, this week and weeks going forward.
Raw (XL Center, Hartford CT )
Announced: It’s a special Halloween edition of Raw, so brace yourself for spooky backstage vignettes and themed street fights. Goldberg is appearing again this week.
What to expect: In truth, there are probably two overriding priorities for tonight’s episode of Raw: Make up ground already lost to SmackDown in naming their teams for the three elimination matches at Survivor Series, while cramming in as much Halloween crap as humanly possible. Expect fancy dress, comedy segments and many proclamations from Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon.
Other issues facing the on-screen authority figures are the next challengers for Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns, who successfully defended their respective titles last night. One suspects Seth Rollins might be frustrated at Chris Jericho’s involvement in his match with Owens. On the flipside, contractual rematches may be on the table for TJ Perkins and Sasha Banks – although the former of those may be complicated by Rich Swann and the latter of those may be subject to how Banks and Charlotte Flair (I’m never going to get used to writing that) will be selling the physicality of their attritional Cell match. Meanwhile, everything I wrote last week about Cesaro, Sheamus and The New Day still applies; at some point, somebody will still need to lose that feud with a whimper.
On Goldberg, announced to appear tonight, it’ll be interesting to see what WWE’s response is to being stung by the Minnesota crowd last week. I think Bill has to get physical here; a spear to Heyman, running out to make the save for a popular face, something to pop the crowd. If Vince McMahon wants crowds to start cheering for Goldberg, having him just give another straight promo may be a high-risk game.
Spotlight: This is a pretty good moment to take stock of Raw’s cruiserweight division. We have a new Cruiserweight Champion, (The) Brian Kendrick, who very handily lost clean against Rich Swann on last week’s episode before his title triumph. We’re about to see the second phase of WWE’s modern cruiserweight adventure. How different will it feel from the first phase?
WWE is in the business of telling stories. We hear whispers on the internet, from industry insiders, about how Vince doesn’t like wrestling for the sake of wrestling, and everything should have a reason and motivation behind it. So there’s this weird disconnect within the cruiserweight division, where the competitors were signed off the back of a WWE Network series which was – pretty much – wrestling for the sake of wrestling and are now plunged into an environment where the Raw creative team feel obliged to write generic storylines for them or otherwise just book five minute tag matches.
The thing I find totally bizarre is that it’s like WWE has forgotten the Performance Center and NXT exist. This is no disrespect to the talent, but if you want Raw’s cruiserweight divison to wrestle WWE-style matches and run title programs that involve backstage promos, why would you bring Tony Nese, Drew Gulak and the rest directly into the Raw roster? That’s what NXT is for. NXT and the PC has excelled in shaping cruiserweight-qualifying talent such as Sami Zayn, Neville and, more recently, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. Then one month, suddenly, the rules didn’t apply any more. I kinda feel sorry for TJ Perkins, trying to get over as an inaugural champion, without having had the benefit of the industry-leading promo support coaching that nearly every main roster debutante in the past couple of years had available to them.
But there’s so much talent among those men, and I’m hoping the division will learn to play to their strengths. I would like to see the Cruiserweight Championship used like a Television Championship, John-Cena-US-Title-Open-Challenge style with the champion having to defend it every Monday night. If the champ picks up an injury one week, the title is vacated and there’s a battle royal. Yes, it’ll likely mean shorter reigns and a messy title history, but there’s no harm in making it a bit chaotic and transient; this is a closed division, it’s meant to be ‘different’ by nature. Embrace it.
That way, the viewer knows one thing they’re guaranteed to see every week they tune in to Monday Night Raw – a small group of super-athletic guys throwing everything they’ve got at each other in the ring, knowing that if they don’t they’ll fall off the top of the mountain. I’m not saying all of Raw needs to be like that, just that a three-hour main course needs an interesting side dish.
I hate to say it, but at the moment this feels a bit like the ill-fated ECW relaunch of ten years ago, where all the ethos and principles were lost in transit when WWE co-opted something that they saw people thought was cool. Now Raw’s creative team have a load of fresh faces at their disposal and a very approximate conceit and seem to otherwise be reverting to type. Without doubt it would never be purposeful, but I’m worried the current incarnation of WWE’s cruiserweight division is inadvertently being set up to fail.
SmackDown Live (Prudential Center, Newark NJ)
Announced: Bizarrely, the only thing anyone’s ‘announced’ for SmackDown this week is The Headbangers mentioning on Twitter they’ll be returning for another appearance.
What to expect: After James Ellsworth cost Dean Ambrose his non-title match with WWE Champion AJ Styles last week, questions aplenty need answering. Will Ambrose take out his frustrations on Ellsworth? Has Styles now put Ambrose in the rearview? If so, what’s next for him? At the top of the women’s division, the picture is simpler: Becky Lynch defends her title against Alexa Bliss next week, necessitating a final hard sell this Tuesday.
Will we learn why Randy Orton turned on Kane last week, seemingly aligning with Bray Wyatt? Surely we will, although another week of ambiguity is certainly possible (and Kane seeking revenge on Orton seems highly probable). The blue brand’s Survivor Series teams are being built, with Nikki Bella installed as women’s captain and possibly facing some challenges getting everybody – Carmella in particular – to rally behind her. The Headbangers, meanwhile, are presumably the answer to the question “how do you find enough tag teams to stage qualifying matches for Survivor Series, without getting The Ascension to lose to everybody in turn”?
Spotlight: Welcome back down the rabbit-hole for another episode of SmackDown Live, the show which last week I praised for moderating its use of James Ellsworth to kick-start a new title program between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose, then chastised for the creative dead-end that was Randy Orton’s feud with The Wyatt Family – a conflict with stale motivations and no interesting ways out for anyone concerned.
Well, don’t I feel like a right dick this week?
It turns out that not only had we not been given enough of Ellsworth as a proxy in the conflict between Styles and Ambrose, but that we had been given enough of the title conflict between Styles and Ambrose itself. The professional embarrassment that threatened to let AJ Styles give his rival another title opportunity now appears to have washed away, as he got what he wanted by manipulation or happy coincidence and the opening has snapped shut. Now where do we go? Styles is under no obligation to offer Ambrose another shot, while the biggest question regarding Ambrose himself – easily the top face on the brand in the absence of John Cena and pre-last-week Randy Orton – is whether he now beats the snot out of a cult favourite. I like James Ellsworth and think he’s portraying a unique character the likes of which Raw doesn’t have a substitute for, but sooner or later we need to remember there’s a title to feud over; a couple of weeks ago I was happy for that to be ‘later’. Now I think it may need to be ‘sooner’.
Meanwhile, has Orton turned to Bray Wyatt’s dark side? I hope so and, while I know it would only be temporary, I hope it’s not really brief. Orton’s character badly needed fresh impetus; his role on the SmackDown roster essentially started out as Veteran Babyface #2 behind John Cena before the Brock Lesnar match at SummerSlam did nothing for him. Wyatt, meanwhile, is a cult leader who struggles to acquire a following and leaves no lasting effect on his opponents, even when he kidnaps them and claims to have consumed their souls. If this turns out to be largely a re-run of Wyatt’s storyline with Daniel Bryan – but is allowed to run a few months rather than a few weeks – it could be a huge lift for both men. The inevitable RKO at the end of it would get a huge reaction too. If they blow through the whole thing in a couple of weeks, I’ll be feeling disappointed.
I suppose these uncertainties do achieve the aim of getting us to tune in again to see what happens. These are progressive writing decisions though; in a week when Owens/Rollins and Reigns/Rusev were being announced, yet again, for Raw in Scotland next week, it would’ve been very easy for the blue brand to slip comfortably into another Styles/Ambrose title feud and have Wyatt get his comeuppance at the hands of a babyface for the zillionth time. Taking the road less travelled is proving to be a key part of SmackDown’s brand split renaissance.
NXT (Full Sail University, Winter Park FL)
After what feels like a marathon of first round matches, we’re finally into the second round of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. As noted last week, hopefully this is where the barn-burning begins. Kota Ibushi and TJ Perkins take on Sanity, while The Authors of Pain take
out on No Way Jose and Rich Swann. I’d imagine the former of those two matches will be the more even contest.
The next Takeover event, in Toronto the night before Survivor Series, has crept up on us to the point where we have a number of matches already announced – Nakamura/Joe, Roode/Dillinger and Asuka/James – and the promise of a handful of tag matches to close the Dusty Classic. Somehow NXT still hasn’t lost that knack, after top names move on to bigger things, of still providing matchups people want to see and cards that deliver. Amen to that.
Remember kids, anything can happen on WWE programming! Some things more than others! Here’s a grid of 25 such things; red for Raw, blue for SmackDown, yellow for NXT and grey for any of the above or anything else. Cross one off if it happens, and we’ll have a celebration here next week if we get a vertical or horizontal line. The drinks are on me if all 25 come good.
I’m claiming ten out of 25 for last week. Three in a line was the best we got again. SmackDown went above and beyond for us last week, with no sighting of Curt Hawkins or American Alpha and more fairytale similies that Alexa Bliss – a woman who dresses up as Harley Quinn and Freddy Krueger – seems to have randomly started leaning on. Naturally I’ve tossed them all back in the cauldron again this week.
Three Burning Questions
Answers in the comments as usual, folks!
- Would you prefer to see the major singles championships defended at Survivor Series, or for those champions to add their star power to the elimination matches?
- If we are indeed at the start of a “Randy Orton has joined The Wyatt Family” story, how long would you play it out for?
- Have you ever dressed up as a wrestler for Halloween and, if so, who?
Until next time, have a good week and enjoy the ride!